Officials conduct African swine fever preparedness exercise

Officials from throughout the United States gathered recently for an exercise to help them prepare for a potential domestic outbreak of African swine fever.

It was part of a four-day training program hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Animal Diagnostic Laboratory.

Federal, state and scientific institutions participated in the course, with representation from 32 states, according to an announcement. The event included an incident command system course designed for African swine fever, which focused on laboratory-centric objectives. Participants also toured laboratories and completed the preparedness exercise.

The exercise simulated multi-agency response efforts for the first 60 days of an African swine fever outbreak in multiple states. The host agencies wanted to observe and assess how lab communications performed during animal disease outbreaks and determine the efficacy of diagnostic strategies and surge response procedures for these situations.

It included three modules: “Initial outbreak” (days one to three), “surge response” (days four to 24), and “ongoing response” (days 25-60). Each module began with a summary of key events from that time period, after which participants reviewed the situation and discussed appropriate response tactics.

They practiced notification and communication strategies, deploying and recalling surge support staff, processing samples, and prioritizing efforts. Immediately following the exercise, participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current incident response structure.

The two host departments last year collaborated to create the African Swine Fever Task Force, based out of the Science and Technology Directorate’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. The task force’s primary focus is on developing a vaccine and improving the diagnostics for African swine fever.

“The emergence of African swine fever has decimated the swine industry in China, but the effects will likely be felt worldwide,” Dr. Larry Barrett, director of the Plum Island center, said in the announcement. “No outbreaks have been reported in the United States, but DHS, USDA and the entire National Animal Health Laboratory Network…need to be prepared to fend off this intractable contagion.”